The BYU softball team finished the 2016 season with an impressive 36-21 record, clinching their eighth-consecutive conference title and twelfth-consecutive trip to the NCAA Regionals.
The Cougars’ West Coast Conference championship was their third since joining the WCC in 2013. Although BYU fell to the Missouri Tigers in the first game of the NCAA Regionals, they came back strong with a 6-4 win against Louisville to stay in the tournament. They played Nebraska in an elimination game, but fell 2-0 to the Huskers, marking the end of BYU’s season.
“I’m proud of the way our team fought against Louisville and then against Nebraska,” said BYU head coach Gordon Eakin. “After a difficult night (against Missouri), I thought they came back and showed great character and played really well.”
This type of character helped define the Cougars this season.
BYU had a 12-3 WCC record and was just over .500 at 22-17 on April 9 before rallying to win 13 of their remaining 15 regular season games. The hot streak included a 12th-inning victory over San Diego on May 13 to win the conference title.
Freshman catcher Libby Sugg, who was an offensive force for the Cougars, said the best moment of the season was the team’s lone postseason win.
“I think the high was definitely the win against Louisville,” Sugg said. “That was awesome. We all came together and we strung hits and we did the little things. I believe that’s how we won that game.”
Sugg hit .319 for the Cougars and was the team leader in both home runs (18) and runs batted in (58).
Sugg didn’t do it alone. Junior Ashley Thompson led the team with a .400 average and scored a team-high 44 runs. She also was the team leader in hits with 66 and earned WCC Player of the Year honors.
But the Cougars weren’t just successful at the plate.
Junior pitcher McKenna Bull broke her own record for single-season strikeouts, ending the season with 286 strikeouts, 30 more than last season. She was named the WCC Pitcher of the Year for the second year in a row and finished the season with a 27-13 record.
Defensively, the Cougars were led by junior Lauren Bell. Bell had a .985 fielding percentage and was named the WCC Defensive Player of the Year. At the plate, she was instrumental in BYU’s 5-4 win over Pacific on April 29. She hit a three-run home run in the seventh inning to put the Cougars ahead. Eakin called it “one of the biggest hits of the season.”
These players are going to make for a talented group of senior leaders going into next season.
With their deep lineup of returning players, the Cougars are looking forward to 2017.
“We only had two seniors this year,” Eakin said. “We’re young and yet, we have experience in the tournament with a lot of our starters. The young kids, this is their first experience, but they did a great job and we have a tremendous class coming in. So we’re excited about our future. To take this nucleus and add the players coming in and continue to grow the program and not fall just short.”
Juniors Bell, Bull, Thompson and McKenzie St. Clair are preparing to fill the shoes of Gordy Bravo and Coco Tauali’i Bond and lead the team next year to an even more successful season.
“Next year we will have a lot of experience out on the field,” Bell said. “As seniors it will be our job to set the example of getting the job done. It’s the little things that make a team great, on and off the field. We have a lot of talent on this team. Next year I see us really putting it all together and succeeding at a high level.”